New-look Raiders seek to end losing ways

The first offseason for the Oakland Raiders since the death of

longtime owner and architect Al Davis was one full of changes.

A general manager was brought on board to run the football

operations, the team hired its first defensive-minded coach since

the 1970s and there was a significant roster shake-up as the new

regime tried to rectify mistakes that led one of the league’s most

storied franchises into a lost decade.

General manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen were

widely praised for their overhaul. Now they get to find out if the

changes in the organization lead to changes in results as the

Raiders try to end a nine-year stretch without a winning season or

playoff berth.

”We respect what Mr. Davis was able to do here, the brand he

created with this organization,” Allen said. ”We’re going to do

it our way. That’s the only way we know how to do it. Reggie and I

have a plan and we hope to have success doing it that way.”

Davis’ way that was once so successful, leading to three Super

Bowl trophies and 16 division titles in his first 40 seasons, had

not worked of late. During this current nine-year run, the Raiders

have gone through six coaches, four last-place finishes and a

number of embarrassing moments that tarnished Davis’ legacy before

his death last October. That led to Davis’ son, Mark, hiring

McKenzie to oversee the football side of the franchise. He

immediately fired bombastic coach Hue Jackson and replaced him with

Allen, who has won over his players with his attention to detail

that they hope will lead to more success.

”It is different,” defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said.

”Everything is detailed. Everything’s got a plan to it. It’s not

just wait a minute and we’ll find out. You know everything. You

know what you’ve got to do, down to the second.”

Despite a bloated salary cap and a paucity of draft picks, the

new regime did not inherit a bare cupboard upon taking over,

providing hope in the organization that the rebuilding can happen

quickly.

Darren McFadden has proven to be one of the most dangerous

running backs in the league the past two seasons when healthy.

Quarterback Carson Palmer came off the couch a year ago in a

bold trade by Jackson and showed signs of being the topflight

passer he was just a few years ago in Cincinnati. Palmer should be

even better this season after a full offseason to learn the offense

and build a rapport with speedy receivers like Denarius Moore,

Darrius Heyward-Bey and Jacoby Ford.

The defense features an imposing line led by Richard Seymour and

Tommy Kelly and versatile safeties in Tyvon Branch and Michael

Huff. Then there’s perhaps the top pair of specialists in punter

Shane Lechler and kicker Sebastian Janikowski.

So the task for Allen and his staff is to turn that talent into

a winning team.

”The perception was just of a team that was extremely talented

but lacked discipline,” backup quarterback Matt Leinart said.

”That’s kind of what everyone said, `Hey, guys, we’re playing the

Raiders this week. They’re going to get cheap penalties, so make

sure you don’t retaliate.’ But the talent was never questioned.

Coach Allen and Reggie McKenzie, with the new regime, we’re going

to cut down the penalties, we’re going to cut down the turnovers,

we’re going to play together as a team.”

While the offense figures to look a little different with a zone

running scheme and more bootlegs and rollouts by the quarterbacks,

the real difference will be on defense. Davis oversaw that side of

the ball for most of his tenure, often hand-picking the defensive

coordinators for his offensive-minded coaches.

The Raiders almost exclusively played tight man-to-man coverage

on the outside, with a four-man line to pressure the quarterback

and one safety deep in the secondary. Now Allen and coordinator

Jason Tarver are mixing different fronts, different coverages and

all sorts of blitzes that the Raiders hope will confuse teams that

used to know exactly what to prepare for against Oakland.

”That’s the one thing with this defense. You never know what

you’re going to get,” safety Michael Huff said. ”It puts people

in position to make plays. And it is up to us to make the

play.”

Kelly said the constant harping about being disciplined and

playing with the proper technique is already paying dividends. He

said the Raiders are tackling better in the preseason than they

have in his first eight seasons in the league and might finally be

able to conquer the penalty bug that has plagued the team for

years.

Allen knows the true test begins Sept. 10 against San Diego.

”To win in the National Football League you’ve got to learn how

to not beat yourselves,” he said. ”That’s one of the things that

causes you to lose football games. It’s my job to get them to

understand that, and then at the end of the day it’s the players’

jobs to make sure they get it corrected.”

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